More and more hate speech is being heard in Bulgaria in 2016, most often directed against Roma people, but also increasingly against Muslims, a survey by the Open Society Institute Sofia has found.
According to a report released on July 12, based on a survey done between April 22 and May 13, the prevalence of hate speech has been expanding in Bulgaria “while the willingness of society to resist it has been declining”.
The survey, the third of its kind after two previous polls in 2013 and 2014, the number of respondents who said that over the past 12 months they had heard statements expressing disapproval, hatred or aggression towards members of minority groups had increased, reaching 58 per cent – the highest since the surveys started.
Roma people are most frequently reported to be victims of hate speech: 92 per cent of respondents that had heard hate speech in the past 12 months said that the hate speech they have heard was addressed towards Roma.
“A significant share of respondents have also heard hate speech towards Muslims, Turks, gay people and foreigners,” the report said.
There has been a significant increase in the share of respondents who over the past year had heard statements expressing disapproval, hatred or aggression against Muslims – from 10.6 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent in 2016.
Television remained the most influential media with which people associate the spread of hate speech – three quarters of the respondents who in the last year had heard hate speech, had heard it from television, the report said.
Compared to the surveys in 2013 and 2014, in 2016 the role of internet as a media spreading hate speech was on the rise.
“The internet is already the second most important medium for spread of hate speech,” according to the report.
Other important mediums for the use of hate speech include public places such as shops and restaurants, public transport and the work place of the respondents, the Open Society Institute Sofia said.
Public approval of the use – in traditional media – of statements containing extreme nationalism and hate speech against Roma and migrants has also increased.
“At the same time there is a decline in the share of respondents who are aware that certain forms of hate speech are punishable by law as a crime, in the share of those who agree that the state should provide protection against hate speech, and in the share of those who agree that the prosecution service and the police should make sure that it is prosecuted.”
Despite these negative tendencies, the majority of Bulgarian citizens (73 per cent) continue to disapprove of the public use of statements that express disapproval, hatred or aggression against minorities, the report said.
As in the 2014 survey, the focus groups with young people, teachers and Roma conducted in 2016, revealed that schools steadily emerge as places which, far from promoting equality, actually disseminate hate speech, the report said.
“Teachers have little sensitivity to the problem, do not possess specific educational tools to intervene, and often express racist and xenophobic sentiments themselves.”
The report said that as stated in a recommendation by the European Commission against racism and intolerance, adopted in December 2015, “conceptions and misinformation form the basis of hate speech and therefore, it is necessary to implement specific measures in the education system to curb it”.
These measures should be directed in particular to the young and should include civic education and media literacy, the report said.
As noted in the previous two surveys, the need to develop and implement a national policy to limit and counteract hate speech is becoming increasingly pressing, according to the report.
“Without such policy, there is a growing risk of escalating discrimination against the most affected social groups (Roma, Muslims, Turks, foreigners and homosexuals) and escalation of hate crimes,” the Open Society Sofia said.
(Main photo: planet love/flickr.com)